☰ menu   

Voicings: Affineur Ashley Morton

Photographed by Claire Pöu

On her website Brieyonce.com, Ashley Morton describes herself as a “global cheesemonster on the go,” and it’s easy to see why. When I caught up with her in March, she’d just returned from a tour of the Netherlands with Beemster Cheese and was making plans to visit Athens for the 2023 Food Expo. A New Yorker by birth (Harlem, specifically), Morton moved to Paris on a whim in 2017 after stints at Murray’s and Chapel Hill Creamery (where she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). She’s since made Tomme de Savoie, gruyère, and manchego with master cheesemakers; taught cheese classes all over the world; and worked as a brand ambassador for several European cheesemakers. Now, she wakes at 5 a.m. to work the caves of Schmidhauser Affineurs in France’s Haute-Savoie. She joined me on Zoom from her home in Annecy (a resort town near the border of Switzerland she moved to in 2021) to chat about judging cheese awards, the turophilic lingua franca, and the spooky art of affinage. 

 culture (CM): You do a lot of scientific work. What did you study in college? 

Ashley Morton (AM): My major [was] in sociology, with biology and anthropology for my minors. I used to work in labs. All the kids that go [to Chapel Hill] want to go into medicine or research. I realized I was kind of doing things I thought other people wanted for me, rather than what I wanted for myself, and I was completely miserable. I had taken this break from school because I just felt so lost. And I’d always loved cheese, but for me, cheese was going to the deli with my mom and getting slices of provolone. I had heard of asiago as a bagel topping, but I never grew up in the kind of situation where we were going to a cheese shop. 

CM: What made you decide to take that first Murray’s job? 

AM: I accidentally found my way into cheese through the suggestion of a relative, she’d seen a job offer posted by Murray’s. They called [the position] a “cave dweller,” and I remember thinking, is this a real thing? They said, “We work with 300 cheeses minimum.” I didn’t know there were 300 different kinds of cheeses! 

CM: And now you’re a judge at the World Cheese Awards! What was that like? 

AM: Oh, gosh, it was so cool. It was great to be able to try really funky products that I’d never seen before. I remember I had one from Japan that was amazing. 

CM: Am I correct that you only speak English? 

AM: I speak French now, but when I first came to France, I didn’t. I just had it in my head that I speak cheese. Rodolphe Le Meunier was one of the first people I ever met in the cheese world. After I left Murray’s he kept in touch with me, and he kept saying, “Ashley, I think you’re wasting your time in the United States. With what you want to do, you need to come to France.” I kept thinking how many adults I would meet when I was younger who would say, “I wish I had done this when I was younger,” or “I regret not trying this.” And I said to myself, I’m never going to be like that. 


Morton has been to just about every major cheese festival out there. We asked her to describe each one in a word: 

  • Slow Food Bra Cheese Festival: Crazed 
  • World Cheese Awards: Inspirational
  • Cheesemonger Invitational: Electrifying 
  • American Cheese Society Annual Conference: Homecoming

CM: When he said, “for what you want to do,” was he speaking of affinage? 

AM: Yeah. He knew I had spent time working for Chapel Hill Creamery, that’s where I started to build my base of knowledge for cheesemaking and aging. I knew if I wanted to become really good at something, I’d have to focus myself more. 

CM: Affinage is a very cool focus, it’s kind of a spooky science. 

AM: Definitely. It’s this innate sensory analysis. I like the tranquility of it. I have some perfectionist tendencies, and affinage is a great way to channel that. I love seeing how the product comes from birth to end and being responsible for that. You have to have cheesemakers that trust you, but you also want to make sure your customers are happy, right? I love the challenge of that. 

CM: So what’s next for you? 

AM: I definitely want to become a top affineur here. And my bigger vision is to continue to be a global ambassador of cheese. I  would love if I could have an exclusive affinage line where I work with select producers and bring those products into New York or the United States. I just remember being that kid in New York who was amazed at everything. For me, it’s important that the things I thought were not accessible to me, I can make accessible to [the next generation], and make them feel like [those things are] achievable. 

CM: You do that just by being an American where you are! Especially as a woman, I bet. 

AM: It’s crazy to think that I even had the guts to come do this, because the French have a reputation for being elitist and exclusionary. I don’t mean that in a negative way, they’re just very proud of their culture. From what I’ve seen, they really don’t let outsiders in, so I don’t know how I was accepted. Could just be a combination of  passion, willingness to learn the culture, coming in open minded. I think a lot of times we get these ideas in our heads like, “I can’t do that.” But nothing is ever impossible. I hope that other people in our cheese industry, if they were to ever think of me or my story, think it’s achievable. Because if I can do it, you can do it, too.

Linni Kral

Linni Kral is a writer, editor, activist, and friend living in Brooklyn, with past lives in Boston, L.A., and Chicago. Her writing has been featured in the Atlantic & Atlas Obscura, among others. She’s happiest in the company of cows, books, and groceries.

Leave a Reply